LeBron James defends legacy, calls Charles Barkley 'a hater'

NBA.com Staff

The list of accomplishments in the career of Cleveland Cavaliers’ superstar LeBron James are numerous, from his four MVPs, three NBA Finals MVPs, 10 All-NBA first team selections to his place among the NBA’s all-time scoring, assist and steal leaders. Despite all this, he’s had his share of detractors over the years, one of whom has (at times) been TNT analyst and Hall of Famer Charles Barkley.

Barkley recently expressed his thoughts on “Inside the NBA” about James reportedly taking the Cavs’ front office to task because he wanted them to add a playmaker.

After the Cavs beat the Brooklyn Nets last Friday, James took the high road about Barkley’s comments, calling what he said “good for the ratings” and that it “meant absolutely nothing” to him.

Following last night’s road to the Mavericks (which was Dallas’ first win against a LeBron-led team since the 2011 Finals), though, James had lit into Barkley for his recent comments and some past ones. ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin was on the scene and has more:

After years of being fodder for Charles Barkley to comment on in his role as an analyst on TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” LeBron James has heard enough.

“He’s a hater,” James told ESPN of Barkley following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 104-97 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Monday. “What makes what he says credible? Because he’s on TV?”

James had been stewing the past couple of days after Barkley took James to task for the four-time MVP calling out the Cavs for needing to fortify the roster with another playmaker to have a realistic shot at a repeat title.

“Inappropriate. Whiny. All of the above,” Barkley said of James last week. “The Cleveland Cavaliers, they have given him everything he wanted. They have the highest payroll in NBA history. He wanted J.R. Smith last summer, they paid him. He wanted [Iman] Shumpert last summer. They brought in Kyle Korver. He’s the best player in the world. Does he want all of the good players? He don’t want to compete? He is an amazing player. They’re the defending champs.”

Barkley has consistently needled James, telling HBO’s Bill Simmons over the summer that James would “never” ascend to top-five status in NBA history over Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain, and going back all the way to 2010 and James’ “The Decision” television special, when Barkley told ESPN Radio 103.3 FM in Dallas/Fort Worth that it was a “punk move” for James to leave the Cavs to take up with the Miami Heat.

James initially took the high road when asked about Barkley’s recent comments, saying they were “good for the ratings,” while defending his competitive spirit.

But after ESPN followed up with a story asking Tristan Thompson for his thoughts on Barkley’s comments, James chose to speak out again in ardent fashion.

“I’m not going to let him disrespect my legacy like that,” James told ESPN. “I’m not the one who threw somebody through a window. I never spit on a kid. I never had unpaid debt in Las Vegas. I never said, ‘I’m not a role model.’ I never showed up to All-Star Weekend on Sunday because I was in Vegas all weekend partying.

“All I’ve done for my entire career is represent the NBA the right way. Fourteen years, never got in trouble. Respected the game. Print that.”

James, whose friendships with Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony have also been called into question, recalled watching a 1993 NBA Finals game between Jordan’s Chicago Bulls and Barkley’s Phoenix Suns and being surprised what he saw on his screen.

“Go watch the ’93 Finals when John Paxson hit the shot,” James said. “Barkley and Jordan were laughing and joking with each other during one of the games while somebody’s shooting a free throw. In the Finals. But, oh, nobody were friends back then.”

Bringing up Anthony reminded James of another basketball luminary who has tweaked him this season — New York Knicks president Phil Jackson — and he had a story to share about Jackson as well.

“I went to see Melo at the Garden two years ago when we were in New York,” James said. “They played Portland. I went up to a suite at halftime, and Phil Jackson didn’t say one word to me.”

He had more words for Barkley too.

“I know he wanted to retire a long time ago, but he can’t,” James said. “He’s stuck up on that stage every week.”

James then issued a challenge, of sorts.

“And if this makes him want to talk to me, the schedule’s out there,” James said. “He knows every road arena I’ll be in. Don’t just come up to me at All-Star and shake my hand and smile.”

It was James’ second bout of frustration shared with the media in a week, as the Cavs finished out January going 7-8. It was the first time James has had a losing record in a calendar month with at least 10 games played since February 2006 — his third season in the NBA — when the Cavaliers went 6-8, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

James also spoke up about the perception he and his inner circle face as young, successful black businessmen, believing that identity being so rare in the power structure of professional sports makes him and his partners targets.

“I collect one paycheck from this,” James said of his role with the Cavs. “There’s the owner, Griff’s [David Griffin] the GM, I’m the player. Screw Charles Barkley.”

James put on his baseball cap and offered a parting thought as he prepared to leave the visitors locker room at the American Airlines Center to head to the airport for a flight back to Cleveland.

“I’m tired of biting my tongue,” James said. “There’s a new sheriff in town.”